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Nets in Milwaukee to play the NBA’s best, the Bucks!

The Nets weren’t able to close out the home-and-home, losing in Charlotte, 100-87, in a game that was never really in jeopardy for the Hornets. That’s OK, after the win in the first match-up and a long stretch of successful and high energy basketball, a little regression isn’t the most shocking thing in the world. It’s a long season, losses happen.

The Nets are flying up to Milwaukee for this next one. It’s the first of three games vs. the Bucks and their first at their new home, the FiServ Forum.

A back-to-back with an Eastern Conference juggernaut isn’t going to be the easiest game for Brooklyn. A significant bounce back is going to be necessary to win this one. Let’s get into it.

Where To Follow The Game

YES and WFAN have this one at 5pm, ET. Nice and early for Saturday night.

Injuries

Caris LeVert (foot) Treveon Graham (hamstring) and Dzanan Musa (shoulder) are out. Allen Crabbe (knee) is close to a return. He’s practiced 5-on-5 and Kenny Atkinson wouldn’t rule out Saturday night for his first game back.

Ersan Ilyasova (broken nose) is out for the Bucks.

The Game

The Milwaukee Bucks have the best record in the NBA going into Saturday’s contest. Really. After they beat the Knicks in Milwaukee Friday night — and the Raptors got blown out by the Magic, Milwaukee’s winning percentage is .706, just ahead of Toronto’s .703.

Coach Mike Budenholzer has opened up their offense after taking over for former Nets assistant Joe Prunty, and the effect it’s had on the team and its star player, Giannis Antetokounmpo, has been extraordinary.

In addition to the best record (24-10), Milwaukee has the best Net Rating in the league at 8.4 and take 43.4 percent of their shots from three, second most in the league behind the Rockets at an astounding 49.5 percent. The Nets, in comparison, take 38.6 percent of their shots from deep, sixth in the league. The biggest deep threats are Khris Middleton, Brook Lopez (!), Malcolm Brogdon, and Tony Snell. They’ll basically just spread a bunch of guys around Giannis and let them pick and fade to give The Greek Freak whatever room he needs to operate. It works.

Keep in mind during this next sentence that Giannis just turned 24 years old like, three weeks ago. He’s averaging 26.5 points, 12.8 rebounds, 5.9 assists, 1.3 steals, and 1.5 blocks all while shooting 58% from the field. Twenty.Four. He is essentially unstoppable, and the Nets best individual answer might just be DeMarre Carroll trying his absolute best. Otherwise, Giannis is going to get his numbers. On the rebounds, it might make sense to play Ed Davis some extra minutes to deny Giannis the opportunity for a couple of extra fast breaks. Guy takes four steps after a rebound and he’s almost at the basket. A little Ed Davis Bully Ball might help out with that.

The Nets starters had a rough go of it against the Hornets in Charlotte, with plus/minuses of -22 for Rodions Kurucs, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, and Jarrett Allen and a -26 for Joe Harris. D’Angelo Russell was the high man with a -13 which is not what you want to see out of a starting unit that’s played so well recently. We might be able to chalk up a lot of that to the extreme minutes played on Wednesday plus the Hornets being prepared to see the same Nets roster for a second time in a row. I’m not sure a back-to-back against the best teams in the league is the best opportunity to right the ship.

Shabazz Napier played 11 minutes against the Hornets, but that may have been more a result of the double overtime than an actual rotation change. He played well, putting up 11 points while not missing a shot from the field. We’ll see if he gets some real minutes again against the Bucks.

After Saturday’s game, Brooklyn will have a decent (three days) rest with their next match-up Wednesday against the Pelicans.

One thing the Bucks aren’t great at is perimeter D, holding opponents down on three pointers, allowing 12.7 makes per game, 28th in the league. The Nets are going to have to take and make plenty of perimeter shots to win this one, and some hot hands would be wonderful. Joe Harris, D’Angelo Russell, Spencer Dinwiddie, and the rest of the deep threats are going to have to ramp it up in this one. It would indeed be nice to have Allen Crabbe back right about now.

Player To Watch

It’s so nice watching Brook Lopez succeed in his new role on his new team. He always played hard and seemed to genuinely enjoy his time as a Net, and his continued success especially in the new NBA is just a joy.

Sometimes I forget he played with a good chunk of the current Core; guys like RHJ, Caris LeVert, Joe Harris, and Spencer Dinwiddie. Feels like he’s been gone way longer than that. This season, he’s shooting 35% from three on 6.7 attempts per game, and putting up 11.9 points and almost 2 blocks. He’s also averaging 2.5 blocks per 36 minutes which is his highest mark since his lone All-Star appearance as a Net in the 2012-13 season. He’s still a nerd, still plays hard, and is probably going to be a problem for the Nets in Milwaukee. At $3.3 million for one season, he’s one of the biggest bargains in the NBA. He won’t be so undervalued this summer.

From The Vault

Hope everyone has nice weekends.

Enjoy.

For another perspective, head on over to Brew Hoop, our Bucks sister site on SB Nation.

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